Friday, 17 October 2008

Africa Too Has a Story to Tell

In many fields of human endeavour, African names are missing on the list of top achievers. This often creates the impression that the African has nothing, or at best very little, to offer to the world. The above misconception has continually been perpetuated such that anything that is good must necessarily be of western or eastern origin -or at least so they say. In the world of software development, on the global landscape, hardly are African names mentioned as active participants.

Does this mean that there are no African participants in this industry? Answer, NO! Although there are relatively few African players at the global level, there is a significant number of them out there worth mentioning. These people are playing key trendsetting roles and therefore demonstrating to aspiring African software industry players that indeed their dream is a feasible one.

There are three reasons why the stories of successful African software entrepreneurs do not catch fire. One is the fact that the very nature of most African cultures has restrained them from projecting their images in the public domain, lest they appear to be showing off. Secondly, the level of technology on the mother continent is so low that there are few African praise singers who will bring the stories of these heroes of ours to the fore. The third reason, which is the one that holds more weight, is that global media organisations are so preoccupied with reporting killings, wars, diseases and poverty in Africa that the speedy pace of technological advancements on the continent has been left uncommented on.

During the last few weeks I and my colleagues at MEST were tasked to investigate the success stories of successful African software entrepreneurs. The many names that came up were amazing and most revealing to me. This is because i had no idea that there were so many Africans making giant strides in the global software space. These were no Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but they were Vinny Lingham, Joe Jackson, Harriet Somuah and Mark Shuttleworth in their own rights. I and my former group mates, Edward and Nii Nai, had a date with Mr Joe Jackson, CEO of theSOFTtribe, Nigeria, and this was really exciting.

My encounter with Mr Jackson was not only educative, as it allowed me to learn first hand the goings on of an industry in which i intend to become an active player, but also very deep in the sense that it afforded me the opportunity to reflect on the realities of the global software industry. I discovered that the internet was far more powerful than i thought and that to become successful in the web industry one must aim global.

But what was more intriguing about our interaction was the story Mr Jackson had to tell. The story was about how he and his partner, Mr Chinery-Hesse, started theSOFTtribe from a bedroom. It was about how the organisation grew to become a leader in West Africa and to have about 30% penetration into Ghana Club 100(group of 100 most successful Ghanaian companies). His story painted a vivid picture of the ingenuity of SOFT as they tasked themselves with the duty of providing African businesses with "tropically tolerant" software. Through the interaction we also discovered the difficulties SOFT is facing in the advent of the globalised world and the strategies that they are employing to overcome these challenges. Specifically, the company had to change its business model because the cascading effects of globalisation ensured that the world became a smaller place. Therefore major business decisions that were hitherto localised, such as decision to purchase software, were now shifted to USA, Europe or South Africa. The end result is that local software companies started losing out on business because the mother branches of most multinational firms were calling the shots. This situation was aggravated by the fact that Ghanaian companies that had foreign partners sarted shunning SOFT's products, even though they agree that they were of superior quality in the Ghanaian environment.

So the company had to give up its long term vision of building Enterprise Resource Planning Applications (ERPs) for West-African businesses. Instead they entered into a strategic partnership with Microsoft, where the software giant allowed them access to the source code of their Dynamics NAV software(formerly known as navision). This way the company brought knowledge of the local terrain to the table while microsoft brought international credibility. This ground-breaking deal turned out to be a win-win situation for both parties. The good news is that this has gone a long way to boost the business standing of theSOFTtribe.

To put everything together, there is massive evidence that Africans are active participants in the global order, specifically the software industry. The story of Mr Joe Jackson and theSOFTtribe is testimony that African companies experience the same forces that shape the business of organsations worldwide. It is also very important for young Africans to draw inspiration from these trailblazers and take a massive shot at their destinies by engaging in entrepreneurial pursuits. Finally, we can all acknowledge that indeed the african too has a story to tell!


  1. You are absolutely right - Africa too has a story to tell. But the world is going at a pace that most people are left behind. To be recognized, "you got to step up your game". Brilliant ideas are nipped in the bud because of socioeconomic reasons. Either we are not persistent enough or we just do not take the initiative. I pray these stories do not die untold.

  2. I guess Africa will get to its destination slowly but surely.The point however is that by the time we ever get there,there will certainly be a new destination.Trust me Gameli unless and until Africans as a people begin to run instead of crawl,we will never get to the top

  3. You're absolutely correct.Like one commentator said,the other part of the world is moving technology at a pace faster than we can ever think to catch up. If we have to, then, something pragmatic has to be done.

    Again, the Westerners, have made platforms that can aid us to reach this end, but it seems we're not taking advantage of it.

    You are a young software developer if i'm correct. By now you know how to script very good, HTML, CSS and Java Script. You should have been able to use your knowledge appropriately, on this site. You could have recoded this page to give it a more different touch rather than just uploading text and images.

    If we want to tell a good story then we must be very practical. Remember we cannot sell snow to the Eskimos or sell sand to the desert dwellers.

    All the same good post and good thinking.Drop me a mail if you for business if you don't mind.

  4. Thanks for the constructive comments.

    @ Alex, i really appreciate your advice. I have actually already downloaded the blog's template and working on HTMLing and Cssing it. :). So let's hope it comes out good soon. Can you send me your email address please?


Keep comments and insights coming to get the discussion going!